Schools, the digital divide, and a closer look at cloud Wi-Fi.
GUEST COLUMN | by Louise Peter
Students in K-12 schools across the U.S. have had unprecedented growth in access to broadband internet over the last few years.
According to a National Assessment of Educational Progress survey, in 2013, only 30 percent of school districts reported having greater than 100 kbps per student, whereas, in 2016, this number grew to a whopping 88 percent.
These numbers undoubtedly prove we are on the path to closing the digital divide in our schools; however, the Wi-Fi infrastructure installed on campuses even as recent as just a few years ago is not robust enough to meet the rigors of today’s connected classrooms.
“The Wi-Fi infrastructure installed on campuses even as recent as just a few years ago is not robust enough to meet the rigors of today’s connected classrooms.”
While it was not too long ago that school districts first began rolling out Wi-Fi to their students and staff, many of the networks that were deployed were out-of-date when they were installed. A large percentage of the Wireless LAN (WLAN) installations utilized controller-based architectures that have been unable to keep up with the ever-growing online demands of the classroom.
A Skyrocketing Statistic
On top of this, the amount of school issued and personal devices belonging to students and staff being used on campus has skyrocketed in recent years. In fact, a recent Futuresource Consulting report shows that mobile computer devices – defined as iPads, Chromebooks and more – issued by schools grew by over 350 percent from 2010 to 2017, and this number does not even include the non-school issued devices that students bring with them to schools every day.
Another study by the Pew Research Center found that 78 percent of Americans aged 12 to 17 own cell phones and that when they are at school, those personal devices are connected to the school’s Wi-Fi network, chewing up precious, limited bandwidth and, ultimately, causing other critical school applications to fail. It’s becoming more and more evident most controller-based WLAN hardware installed are failing to meet today’s school network demands.
As Routine as the Pledge of Allegiance
As an overseer of K-12 Wi-Fi, receiving Wi-Fi support tickets from students and staff can be as routine as the morning pledge of allegiance. And while time spent troubleshooting Wi-Fi has grown, IT staffing budgets have not.
Fortunately, with the virtualization of hardware to the cloud, school districts can realize true benefits, as hardware costs are dramatically reduced and networks are created that require fewer people to support. With cloud Wi-Fi, the formerly on premise controller is instead in the cloud, allowing for nearly limitless computing power, storage and far greater security.
Connected Classrooms and Network Demands
With a cloud managed Wi-Fi solution, school districts can manage and troubleshoot their WiFi from a central location. This is an enormous benefit for districts that are geographically distributed over a large area or that have a large number of schools in their boundaries, as it requires a much smaller IT team to support.
Other benefits of cloud-managed solutions include automatic software updates pushed from the cloud, massive scalability that allows for growth, and integration with education apps, such as Google for Education.
This allows for simplified device authentication, so only approved devices are allowed on a network, and the ability to block devices from accessing social apps within certain areas of the school. Wi-Fi access could be prevented in classrooms, for example, but allowed in the cafeteria.
In addition, Access Points (APs) with a third radio can be set up to act as a client to test the network ahead of important events, such as state testing, scan the air for wireless threats and rogue APs, or act as a device trying to access the network to determine if there are any connectivity problems.
While the digital divide is coming very close to being bridged, many school districts will soon find themselves back at the drawing board, seeking to re-architect their controller-based Wi-Fi infrastructure that can no longer keep up with their network demands. The cloud and newer APs are allowing for greater scalability, simplified management and students and staff that will have reliable Wi-Fi in the increasingly connected classroom.
Louise Peter is Senior Marketing Manager at Mojo Networks. Write to: [email protected]